THE owner of Kooralbyn Resort has admitted some workers were paid in bar tabs and a former general manager has revealed he quit because he feared for his reputation.
With two weeks to go until its scheduled opening on April 29, the revelations are the latest blow for the resort, which is undergoing a $7 million renovation by owner and Yong Real Estate founder Peter Huang.
The project has missed three opening dates since December and has lost three general managers in nine months.
The latest departure was Brendan Cullen, who started working at the resort on February 29 but resigned on March 22 in protest at what he labelled “unprofessional and shambolic” conduct by senior management.
Mr Cullen said he resigned to save his reputation.
“(Mr Huang’s) business practices are so fractured and so flawed, I don’t want my name to it. I don’t want it on my CV, I don’t want any connection with it down the track.
“I don’t want anything to do with Peter Huang,” he said.
Mr Cullen also claimed some labourers were being paid via bar tabs at the nearby Kooralbyn Country Club Pavilion, which is owned and operated by the resort.
“One bloke in particular would write down his hours and if he did 40 hours at 20 bucks an hour, he’d get an $800 tab,” Mr Cullen said.
“He could just walk into the bar and get whatever he wanted.”
Mr Cullen said some of the staff paid via bar tabs were on government welfare and benefited from the arrangement because it did not impact on their welfare payments.
Paid in beer
On Monday, Mr Huang admitted some “volunteers” had performed work in exchange for bar tabs but the practice had stopped.
“They were not employees. They came here as volunteers and (a previous) general manager thought it was courtesy to give them bar tabs,” he said.
“I thought it was wrong, it caused problems with alcohol. Now they get gift vouchers.”
In other revelations, Mr Cullen claimed almost all of the workers were unskilled for the jobs they were performing.
“I was talking to one fella and asked him what his trade was. He said plasterer, but he was installing plumbing.
“I thought, you’ve got to be gagging me, he was installing toilets.
“Another bloke was employed to fix two old trucks, he had some mechanical skills, but he was doing tiling.”
Shortly before he resigned, Mr Cullen said staff were angered when Mr Huang changed staff pay dates without informing anyone.
“Most of the staff walked off the job until they got paid.
“He eventually promised to cover all their bank dishonour fees,” Mr Cullen said.
Mr Cullen said one of the main reasons behind the multiple opening delays was because Mr Huang failed to pay his contractors, suppliers and tradesmen on time.
“Every second day, work was being held up because people wouldn’t show up until they were paid,” he said.
“It affects everyone down the line. He’s playing with these people’s lives. It’s extraordinary.”
Owner hits back
But Mr Huang hit back at his former general manager, saying Mr Cullen was not up to the job and quit because could not handle the high-pressure nature of the project.
“Our previous general manager did not do a good job and left (Mr Cullen) a lot of work to do and he couldn’t handle it,” he said.
“He asked for a seven-week delay to the opening, which I gave to him, but he still couldn’t finish and that’s why he quit.”
“I thought he would deliver on time but he could not. He was under too much pressure.”
Responding to the claims about use of unskilled workers, Mr Huang said most of the 60-person workforce was unskilled but all on-site works were overseen by the team leader, qualified plumber Dale Filippe.
“We employ many people who did not have jobs beforehand,” he said.
“Yes, a lot of them are unskilled but when we need qualified people we hire qualified people.”
Mr Huang admitted to cancelling a pay cycle in March because some staff did not turn up to work.
“We hadn’t gotten their time sheets, it was quite amazing, and people weren’t turning up to work, so we decided to pay them the following week,” he said.
When staff reacted angrily, Mr Huang said he promised to cover all bank dishonour fees that resulted from the change.
A world of pain
Mr Cullen, who is now employed in a similar role in Stanthorpe, said the resort’s management needed to be investigated.
“If someone came in and did a proper investigation, they’d be in a world of pain,” he said.
“There’s a lot more to come out.”
Mr Cullen also rejected Mr Huang’s suggestion that he was not up to the job.
“Under no circumstances was it because I couldn’t handle the stress or it was overwhelming. It was because of the way they conducted business,” he said.
Mr Cullen said his motivation for speaking out was to clear his name and help the staff left behind.
“They’re too scared to speak up but they’re waiting for something to come out because they hope it will effect some change,” he said.
“Hopefully me coming out encourages more of them to speak.”
Despite his experience, Mr Cullen said he saw potential for the resort in the future as long as it received significant financial investment.
He said the resort and golf course still needed about six months of work to ensure it provided a worthwhile experience for its guests.
“It’s a beautiful spot there and the resort has the bones to be good, but it will live or die on its TripAdvisor reviews,” he said.
“People will not be kind if it opens in its current state, it will get trashed.”
Mr Huang said the resort was still on track to officially open on April 29 and would offer a “unique experience” for guests.
The real estate tycoon said he was now working full-time at the resort and had recently hired three new general managers to ensure the rest of the renovation project went smoothly.
He said more than 30 activities would be available on opening day and the resort would soon begin running courtesy buses to Kooralbyn from Brisbane and the Gold Coast.